Politics and the pulpit

rice.jpg

It’s five ’til and I’m getting ready for the noon Good Friday Service, meeting with the reader, going over the parts. I have my sermon in hand.

A couple of young women come to my office, and I think, Oh good. College students. I’m glad they showed up. I hope it’s not an emergency, though. I don’t have much time…

“Reverend Merritt?”

“Yes.”

“Um, we’re the Secretary of State’s secret service. We’re here just to check everything out. Dr. Rice is going to attend the service.”

“Okay. Thanks,” I say as I look to see if they’re packing heat in the church.

Our sanctuary’s a stone’s throw from the Watergate Apartments, where Condoleezza lives. Her dad was a Presbyterian pastor. She usually goes to the prestigious National Presbyterian Church, but I guess she was in a crunch, and decided to worship at our place. We’re the scrappy little church on the corner, the one that’s filled with good-humored contrarians.

I stare at my sermon and wonder if I should deviate. I wasn’t planning to say anything in my Good Friday homily about the infuriating war in Iraq, or the abominable use of torture in our country. It was a nice little piece about the family of God.

I wonder if I can fit it in…like…”You know, it’s interesting that we’ve brought up the subject of Jesus being tortured, because THAT REALLY APPLIES TO OUR LIVES. RIGHT NOW.”

The deviation wouldn’t be out of place in our pulpit. We preach about politics all the time. I mean we’re in DC, if we didn’t talk about it, it would be like living in Nebraska and never mentioning the corn.

Plus, look around. Can we sit back and let everything we believe be trampled upon, and not say anything, because we think that politics don’t belong in the pulpit? Really, would God want us to keep those artificial niceties up? Shouldn’t we be preaching about things that mean something to people? Shouldn’t we be preaching about things that mean something to us?

I’m not talking about supporting one particular candidate or a party over another. I’m not talking about keeping the religious left talking points next to our Bibles. I’m talking about standing up for injustice and crying out for peace.

I’ve protested. I’ve joined throngs of people, walking, singing, shouting, calling out, in the hopes that someone in this administration would hear me. Then I would find a tiny little paragraph about the march on page 17 of the Style section, the next morning.

Now I have the chance to speak to the big C, directly.

I still don’t know what I would have done. She didn’t show. But, I think I would have just gone with the script. I mean, I didn’t have a chance to think about it or pray about it. Spouting out a bunch of hearfelt, yet unprepared ramblings would have probably made things worse.

Unless the Holy Spirit moved….

So, what would you have done?

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6 thoughts on “Politics and the pulpit

  1. You did just fine on that Good Friday. There is definitely a proper way and in improper way to do this. (I say “proper” instead of “right” for obvious reasons.)

    I remember being asked during the interview before being called to serve the church down the highway from yours, “Can you imagine protesting on the mall?” with a facial expression accompanying that question that made it clear that an affirmative answer would be the wrong answer.

    I think I answered something like, “Well, there are things worth protesting, don’t you think? Persecution against Christians, for example.” She seemed okay with my answer (especially since they called me.)

    I worshipped at Foundry the Sunday before Clinton’s audience with Ken Starr and he sat right in front of the pulpit but no one said a thing political. The sermon, I believe, was apolitical/safe to the point of being trite. But it’s hard to imagine writing and preaching for people when there is a specific pointedness towards a particular worshipper. Not “we are all sinners” but “there’s a particular sin I’d like to address . . .”

    Again, sounds like you did well.

  2. I would have stuck to the script for two reasons.

    1. There are times to deviate from the planned sermon. The Sunday after September 11, 2001, the pastor at the church I was attending (I was in specialized ministry at the time.)was scheduled to reflect on her trip to Turkey. She did not deviate, but instead tried to casually tie in the events of the previous Tuesday with her trip. There was no way to “casually” do that. While your move may not have been casual, it may have been about as meaningful unless you drew a deep connection to Good Friday. Those deep connections are rarely drawn at the last minute.

    2. Dr. Rice needed to hear the gospel. While I fully believe politics have a place in the pulpit, some times they take the place of the gospel. That simply isn’t fair.

    I’m sorry she didn’t show. I think those kind of gut check experiences really help us gain perspective on our own ministries.

  3. Ouch. The Sunday after September 11 was no time for a holiday slide show. I bet she regretted that one a few times.

    Along with your point, Jan, about pointing out a particular worshiper…I couldn’t help but feeling like I would be using the pulpit as my own personal manipulation tool. And that’s not what it’s for, right?

  4. It is a very good question. I think about it often. My sermons by and large are not political by nature, but everyone around knows of my political activities. Yet there is a time to speak truth to power. This is entirely Biblical. This administration does a particularly good job at insulating itself against hearing different viewpoints. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to sit with the choir scribbling on the script. Yet, if it that scribbling was about the torture of Jesus (the Good Friday message) and our abhorence against such practices because of our adherence to the Gospel I am not sure that this would be a purely political act.

    Jesus proclaims from the book of Isaiah that at the center of his ministry is to “set the captives free” and to my mind this is as important to someone in Folsom as it is in Guantanamo. I would trust your conscience, but there is nothing wrong with speaking truth. I am troubled that we would think of the issue of torture as political and not a gospel/faith issue.

    I don’t want to leave the false impression that I would be able to preach such a message in front of Condi, but I wouldn’t think that the person who does as being purely political.

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